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Security Tightened in Gujarat State

Security was tight Monday in India's western Gujarat State to prevent religious violence as Muslims celebrated an Islamic New Year festival. Sporadic violence continues to erupt in several towns, three weeks after Hindu-Muslim riots engulfed the state.

In towns and cities across Gujarat, soldiers guarded mosques and held street marches as preventatives against violence. Curfews were enforced in areas where tensions between Hindus and Muslims remain high.

Muslim leaders cancelled processions traditionally held to observe the Ashura new year festival and scaled down other ceremonies.

Scattered violence has been reported, across the state, in recent weeks. Sunday, a Hindu mob hacked a Muslim woman to death in Ahmedabad. Several people were stabbed in other towns, raising fears the Muslim festival could trigger a fresh round of violence.

Riots erupted, earlier this month, after a Muslim mob set fire to a train, killing 58 Hindu passengers. This sparked revenge attacks by Hindus that killed more than 700 people, most of them Muslims.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has called for an end to the violence, saying it has tarnished the country's image.

Mr. Vajpayee has been severely criticized by opposition parties and his own allies for supposedly not doing enough to control Hindu hard-line militant groups blamed for the violence. Gujarat is ruled by Mr. Vajpayee's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

India's National Human Rights Commission has charged the Gujarat state government with "inefficiency" in controlling the communal violence. After a visit to the state, the chairman of the commission, J.S. Verma, said the situation is "far from normal."

Mr. Verma also criticized the condition in relief camps, which houses thousands of Muslims who lost their homes in the riots.

State authorities have come under attack from voluntary groups and opposition parties for not providing sufficient food or aid to the victims of the riots. The state government dismisses the criticism as baseless.